« Now I'm Famous, Briefly | Main | A Hawk Tale and the February Garden »

I Love Yew

I fell in love with yew years ago when I visited a garden with an enchanted path meandering through a tunnel of yews. The deep green plants were vase-shaped, growing upright with upper branches that arched over the path. The understory was planted with all sorts of ground covers and woodland plants. It was a cool and leafy passageway that eventually opened to a sunlit grassy area with perennial borders and a pond. The image is still vivid in my mind. I have never recreated the scene in my garden, but I have planted some yews which are beautiful in their own setting.

There are many yew cultivars. Some are tree form, growing to over sixty feet tall. Others are low growing spreaders that make good ground covers. Many are shrub-like and can be clipped into hedges. There are English yews, Taxus baccata, and there are Japanese yews, Taxus cuspidata. And then there are combinations of the two, Taxus media

All yews have short, flat needles that are dark green on top with lighter green undersides.
New spring growth is a fresh green color.The plant is evergreen and looks best when combined with lighter shades of green and colors such as gold, silver, blue, and burgandy. The following photos show how the deep color of yew combines with the chartreuse of my moss path, as well as the lighter foliage of the Japanese maple 'Waterfall', shown in the first shot.

Yews like sun to shade and once established are drought tolerant, growing in hardiness zones 4-9, depending on the cultivar. They like well drained, neutral soil. Emphasize the well-drained part. Usually yews are unbothered by disease or insects, though occasionally scale, weevils, or root rot may affect them. Yews don't do well everywhere on my property. In fact, I have killed several by planting them in clay soil. But in a particular part of the Woodland Garden the soil is rich and deep and nearly the color of charcoal. Here I planted two low growing, spreading yews, Taxus Baccata 'Repandens', and they have thrived. After about five years the two cover an area of about fifteen feet. They anchor a corner of the woodland's main planting bed and provide year round structure to this part of the garden. One can see them in the lower right corner of the following photo, taken in March 2010, before most other plantings in the area had leafed out or begun to grow.

Be aware that all parts of the yew plant are poisonous. Female plants may produce attractive red berries if a male yew is in the area. If yews grow too large or ungangly, they can take severe pruning, but thus far I have not pruned mine. They truly have been low maintenance plantings. I can't help loving yew!

PrintView Printer Friendly Version

EmailEmail Article to Friend

Reader Comments (31)

I too like yews and use them often in design for winter interest, textural interest and garden structure. The deer like them a lot too, though. Many yews up here are stripped after a hard winter, even those planted at a home's front door. I am surprised that you had some die. Wet feet is the most common problem, I even had one in my yard go from that condition. I planted one where a pond was formally located in a shady, northern location, and the area did not dry out in a season of constant rain. But generally, not much kills them and heavy clay soil is rampant up here. Glad you highlighted a plant many gardeners overlook, because it is a wonderful garden addition, as it comes naturally in many forms. The procumbens and pyramidals are great for design interest.

February 25, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterDonna

I love yewr yews too Deb! I have one. It must like where it is. I do trim it, as it is in a very small space. What I really need to do is move the growth around it (plants that can be moved) and let it loose! Thanks for the post on Yews. It's all good News!!

February 25, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterEve

There were 2 large yews when we moved here 21yrs ago and now we are finding seedlings in various different parts of the garden, I have enough now to make a yew hedge - the only problem is - where do I put it!! They certainly are wonderful evergreens, contrasting with the more airy foliage of the deciduous trees and shrubs, wouldn't be without mine.

February 25, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterPauline Mulligan

Talk about a versatile plant: Beauty, self-sufficiency, annnd it's used medicinally historically, with promise for future healing breakthroughs. Cheers on yew!

February 25, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterLee May

I had two yews planted by the builder on either side of the narrow walkway that leads to my front door. I loved them but they became so enormous their branches covered the walkway and you had to force your self between them. It was almost like going through a turnstile. I didn't want to chop them into boxes so I ripped them out. :( I wish I'd had the little ones you have. I love how soft their leaves are.

February 25, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterCasa Maripoas

Yew can sometimes be over planted and trimmed so badly they do not appear as graceful as those pictured here...when planted and cultivated right they are so beautiful. I love how you have them planted Deb...just right.

February 25, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterDonna@Gardens Eye View

Ah, Yew! It is almost unknown here. I found two plants years ago, one of which survived and will be part of the Mothers' Garden which we hope to complete during 2012. Some 70 cuttings (of which I was very proud!) were eventually planted out into a series of hedges about 6 years ago. Only two have not died. I accept that Yew do not love Africa... :)

February 25, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJack

Lovely. I love yews, too, but they don't love my garden. :( I'll just have to love them from afar.

February 25, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterHolleyGarden

I really need to give more consideration to the many new cultivars of this plant. Yours look quite beautiful. If the traditional type of yew gets too big (or the deer eat the bottom) you can prune it into a lovely small tree.

It took me a second to get the double entendre... you were making passes at us!!!! you cheeky thing, you!

February 25, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJess

The Yews look wonderful in your garden. They wouldn't like my garden very much and in any case they are so poisonous to horses that I'd be afraid to grow any.

February 25, 2012 | Unregistered Commentersweetbay

Deb - I've heard of yew. I've always thought of it as a large hedge for stately gardens, I wouldn't have been able to recognise it, but now the feathery leaves in your new spring growth photo is stored in my memory. I think I love yew too!

February 26, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterb-a-g

We are also very fond of Yew. They will grow in any position in our garden. I did have a problem growing them in containers, they would start to get very sickly looking after a few years. It appears the only problem with Yew is becoming water logged. Our dwarf Box hedging died off due to Box blight a few years ago. I have replaced it using Yew. It is starting to thicken out, I intend to keep it no taller than 14 inches, hope it works out.

February 26, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAlistair

Deb, I should love yew, because it's the source of the chemotherapy drug Taxol, to which I probably owe my life. There is a yew growing beside the front door of my rented townhouse in Gettysburg which is a little too big for its allotted space. I try to keep it pruned in a natural form -- because if I don't, my landlord shows up with his electric hedge trimmer and turns it into a cube! I should look for the right place to plant a yew in my Maine garden, both as an act of gratitude and because that garden has the ultimate well-drained soil.

February 26, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJean

Thanks for your yew post - I love them as well. We have a long winter where I am, and they are one of the few evergreens that really stay GREEN no matter how cold it gets. Such a deep color and great form. They are so often overlooked. Your photos highlight them really well!

February 26, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterspurge

The Yews look perfect in your woodland. I almost always think of them as a formal garden plant (they are so often clipped and made into topiaryhere and in the UK. I love them however they are grown. I've been pondering on plant to put in the drive border where I want some height. Yew would be perfect, thanks for the inspiration. Christina

February 27, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterChristina

Yews look wonderful in your garden. How delightful to have opened my Helena City News and see your garden featured. What a wonderful story on your lovely garden......

February 27, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterChris

Yew, so reliable and so architectural! We wouldn't be without our mature one in the garden as it provides shelter. And Yew is one of the best plants for topiary and hedging.

February 27, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMark and Gaz

Debs, just in case like me you seldom revisit a comment you've made on another's blog - I find pruning any of the 'fancy' abelias like 'Confetti' quite heavily helps to renew their special colour....

February 27, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJack

Yews do well in our PNW gardens and I also rely on them for shade containers where they combine beautifully with chartreuse heuchera, autumn ferns etc.

Symmetrical planters flanking a door look traditional and tidy where that look is preferred. I have one client who likes me to underplant hers very simply in summer with green/white ivy & red and white impatiens. The pots are glossy black as is the door to her Colonial style home.

February 27, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterKaren Chapman

I have been studying my garden all Winter because my goal this season is to add more evergreens throughout the garden. At least one Yew is a definite and I found the differences between Japanese and English Yews and combinations thereof very helpful, thank you. I love your Yew-strewn mossy path. It's beautiful.

February 27, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterthevioletfern

I do love Yews too, to look at. Unfortunately, with our animals here, I'm unlikely to grow them. They do always have such a rich, and lush green look to them though, and they're such versatile plants in the garden. The flattened needles always remind me a little of redwood branches too.

February 27, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterCurbstone Valley Farm

My neighbor has a huge Yew at the corner of her lot and i like to pretend that it's actually mine. I love it!

February 27, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterGinny

Hi Deb - yews are so reliable and dependable. They have grown big and strong in my front garden as well as in the shady areas of the backyard. I've clipped and pruned them, cut branches for Christmas urns - they grow back quickly and do not suffer from the cuts. I love them too!

February 27, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAstrid

Lovely informative post on an oft overlook evergreen. Taxus baccata was dropped in my garden a few years ago so I moved it as a sprigling to somewhere more obvious than the bird had planted it. It really needs some lighter foliage to set it off as tolerates shade so well it does tend to disappear into the shadows.

February 28, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterLaura@PatioPatch

Hi Deb, There is a large Canada Yew in the vacant lot behind out home. I love the translucent red berries and have photographed this 8ft beauty many times. I have several yews (unknown varieties) in the garden. That they tolerate dry shade makes them indispensable.

February 28, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJennifer

There were a few yews in my neighborhood where I used to live, and I remember admiring them. They also attracted lots of pollinators. Your photos of the various hues in yews are lovely.

February 28, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterThe Sage Butterfly

I agree -- yews are wonderful. I love the play of shades of green in your photos.

February 29, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterKevin

I was going to leave Yew a pun, but I see I have been beaten to it :)

Deb, you really have a knack for using texture and color in your garden all year long! Always lovely. I have to admit that my houseplants get neglected in the summer, but I do better in the winter when my outdoor garden is sleeping.

March 1, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterRobinL

Soil rich and deep and nearly the color of charcoal … oh how I envy you DEb :)

March 4, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterDenise
Comments for this entry have been disabled. Additional comments may not be added to this entry at this time.